Academy Award-Nominated Actress Debra Winger talks with Justin Bozung for TV Store Online about the 1984 Warner Brothers maudit MIKE'S MURDER...
WINGER: Well, I was living on a farm in Ohio when [director] Jim [Bridges] fetched me for MIKE'S MURDER. It was during my first retirement. (laughing) How did I find the character? Jim and I worked together so closely. In a weird way, I think that Betty was facilitating the story even though if you watch the film--maybe, you might think it's a psychological thriller from the point-of-view of Betty. But, I felt that she was in service to the story. It was sort of like she was the film camera. You mentioned a moment ago how you thought that MIKE'S MURDER was an under-appreciated film, and I guess that, in a way, that was how I saw Betty as well. I think that there are people in the world, and it isn't like they don't know who they are--but it's as if the world doesn't really appreciate what's special about them. And when I use the word "appreciate" there, I'm using it in an old-fashioned way. Like: "I appreciate what you're saying..." In that way, Betty was an unappreciated type in the world. Hence, her job as a bank teller and her invisibility. That allowed her to tell that story.
TV STORE ONLINE: Is is true that you came up with Betty's last name for the story?
WINGER: Parrish? Yes, that's true.
TV STORE ONLINE: Was that a thought of Parrish in the biblical sense? The Old Testament sense? Is Betty a safe-haven? Or how it's used in the Bible as denoting someone who is a guardian?
WINGER: Well, I couldn't name her Perishable!
TV STORE ONLINE: (laughing)
WINGER: I think that was kind of what I feeling about life from the story. That life was perishable. The best words are those that have multiple meaning, so, it's nice to know that you did your homework on that. (laughing)
TV STORE ONLINE: There's a nice touch that is implemented in the film...Once Betty finds out that Mike has been murdered she begins to wear dark sunglasses for the rest of the film...As if the film is a funeral or wake...Was that something that you brought to the character?
You know, I haven't seen the film is such a long time. Any choice like that, would have been mine. Jim didn't get into any of that business. He didn't get in the way. If he had a problem with something he'd let you know, but he pretty much held actors in the highest esteem, so their choices, and their trajectories as long as it was continuing to tell the story-- was up to them. That's why he got beautiful performances from every actor that he worked with, and that's why any actor that has worked with Jim Bridges will probably tell you that their work with Jim is the best of their career. That's why actors worked with Jim over-and-over again. That's why he had the same crew on many of his films too.
TV STORE ONLINE: What were your thoughts at the time on the whole Warner Brothers thing...The studio insisting that the film be re-cut prior to it's theatrical release because of the bad test screenings....
You know, I just stayed side-by-side with Jim. I did try to use whatever influence I might have had at the studio. What's ironic is that it was at the very very beginning of indie film, not the fringe indie movement--but the beginning of mainstream films trying to be produced on a smaller budget. The film was produced by Alan Ladd Jr.'s company, and he had just started that company. Ultimately, the film didn't do well because of the studio's mentality. Regardless of how the test screening went or the re-cutting of the film, the studio in the end, thought that if they just put the film out and it found an audience--then they'd make money. But if they put it out and advertised it, and it didn't find an audience--then they'd lose money. MIKE'S MURDER taught us that first hard lesson.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you think the film suffered from the re-cutting? Jim's first cut has almost become the stuff of legend today...
Well, I preferred Jim's first run at it. But I don't think that the film as it exists today is lost. I won't say that I like a director's first cut, but I do prefer a film to be a director's cut. I think a director should always have final cut, and that doesn't always happen today.
TV STORE ONLINE: When MIKE'S MURDER came out there was a interview with Jim Bridges in the New York Times were he mentioned how you had leave the set on the day that Mike's murder in the apartment was filmed...
WINGER: Well, I just said, "You guys set the room..." Jim had the room dressed from his crime scene research, and it wasn't like Betty had seen a crime scene before in her life. I think a lot of the problem is that we just see so much violence on television now that it makes you numb to it. So when I walked in and saw all of that--yes, of course, I had a visceral reaction to it. They had to use cow's blood and it really stunk. I think it's an honest reaction that one would have in that situation.
TV STORE ONLINE: I love the aesthetic realm in which this film exists. MIKE'S MURDER has a very out-of-time or dreamy feel to it--which doesn't allow the film to work for many. But, because that sense of time is skewed in the film, it seems like it affords certain narrative liberties--like the sort of absurdist ending, with Betty shaking the refrigerator to trick her assailant that they're in the middle of an earthquake...
Jim and I did talk about that. We had long discussions about ways that I've gotten myself out of tight spots that I've been in. We talked about drugs and paranoia, and disorders that come from paranoia. Clearly I was dealing with a paranoid person, and when someone is in a paranoid state you can distract them in many ways. Plus, I think that we were probably paying homage to WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967). The refrigerator plays such a key role in that movie
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung